We spoke to five incredible founders about product development, branding and marketing, and the success stories they’ve experienced so far.
In part 2, we spoke to Moemen Abbas, CEO and founder of i-Bars Club, whose mission is to create internationally themed, healthy protein bars. Read on to learn how i-Bars Club tests new ideas, how an incredible team is driving his innovative products, and the secret ingredient in his soon to be released Tokyo-themed bar.
This is part 2 of our “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle” series. Don’t forget to check out Part 1 (Veggie Table Foods). Check back in two weeks for part 3!
Tell us a bit about i-Bars Club.
We make premium vegan protein bars with an international theme. We’re introducing new flavors from different cities and each of our bars is named after a city where the key ingredient is from.
There are a lot of meal-replacement, protein, and health bars on the market today - what do you feel is i-Bars’ biggest differentiator?
We try to introduce new flavors you can’t get anywhere else. Most brands of bars have the same flavors - chocolate chip, peanut butter, and so on. Some bars have just a few benefits, and we want our bars to have them all - gluten-free, high-protein, GMO-free, etc. Very few bars hit on all of those. Even worse is that some “protein bars” have less than 15g of protein. That’s not a protein bar for someone who’s working out a lot.
We consider ourselves very innovative, with new products always coming in the pipeline, and we want to introduce a lot of different international flavors. We’re also in a niche market where we’re targeting affluent consumers. These are people who want high quality ingredients from all over the world. For example, our next bar is “Tokyo.” For that, we’re importing matcha directly from Japan to use in our bars. That’s expensive, so we’re targeting affluent consumers. No one else is doing that.
I’ve hired a chef, food scientist, and nutritionist, and I’m a pharmacist by training. This combination is very strong for creating scientifically healthy bars that taste good.
When did you know you had something you could build a business around, as opposed to just an interesting idea?
I studied in international schools for years, and I had this idea to do something that was both healthy and reflected my international background. So I worked with health consultants and they suggested protein bars that sourced ingredients from different countries. It’s taken a lot of time get to a point where we can start production, but so far people love the bars and we’re able to bring super foods from all over the world.
What are some concrete steps you took to go from idea to product, to something that can scale?
I’m bootstrapping and focusing on finding the right team who can work with a startup. It’s tough to build a good team with minimal resources. Building a memorable brand is also challenging.
It was also very difficult to get my visa as an immigrant. It took 7-8 months just to get my visa. I had to overcome a lot of hurdles.
Can you share your process for gathering feedback and turning it into actionable steps for your own product development?
We worked with focus groups we put together through our network - friends, people at the gym, etc. Targeted focus groups are important. Our products are international and everyone has different taste buds. We test with American-only groups and international groups and ask them about our bars as well as our competitors.
We also just go out on the streets and to cafes and hand out samples. We ask just people to try it and get feedback.
For just our first bar, we ran over 25 trials to make sure we had it right.
What food brands have been most influential to you?
Every company has a model - I really like RXBAR. When they changed the design, their sales increased a lot and was noticed more by customers. That showed me how important packaging is for CPG sales.
Labeling all of the ingredients right on the front of the package was a smart move - being transparent is the most important thing in our space. For me, a protein bar must have premium superfoods and quality ingredients. I wish every protein bar told you everything inside it.
Being available everywhere is important as well - Quest Bars has done a great job of getting distributed almost anywhere you can think of.
What success story are you most proud of?
I would say, I invested a lot in real estate in Egypt - I had a lot of experience and I was very lucky when I bought my real estate because I could sell it high. I invested when everyone was selling, and when the market boomed, I made a lot of profits. I’m also very proud of my Master’s in marketing, which has given me a lot of connections worldwide. My network has helped me a lot and I’m proud of it.
How does your global background influence your products and branding?
I traveled all over the world for my education, and I worked in Egypt, Dubai, Singapore, the U.S., and some others. Every time I met people in different parts of the world, I saw that everyone had different habits and cultures. More specifically, I learned that everyone looked at food differently. I was never passionate about health before, but now I am and I’m combining it with my love of travel and sharing it. You can see all of my passions in iBars.
This interview was conducted and written by Ideometry, an all-in-one growth marketing agency helping everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies engineer brilliant integrated campaigns, find their ideal audience, fuel their pipeline, and drive real success.
Read the rest of our “Five Food Startups Winning the Branding Battle” series: